The Beat Goes On In Eubanks Family

Posted: June 14, 1998

Duane Eubanks, younger brother to Kevin and Robin, twin to Shane, and emerging jazz musician, has a knack for sizing up a situation.

On his day job at Tower Records in New York: ``I hate it.''

His decision to stop playing music during his teens: ``Worst mistake of my life.''

His career trajectory: ``Next year is going to be my year.''

In an art form built on improvisation, Eubanks' sense of focus is a distinct asset. The 29-year-old trumpeter will demonstrate some of his other skills at tonight's Mellon Jazz Festival tribute to the late Johnny Coles, with whom Duane studied for two years while living in Mount Airy, in a home that was a breeding ground for musical talent.

Vera Eubanks, a gospel pianist who taught music privately and in the Philadelphia school system, urged her sons toward music. Kevin, 40, the guitarist, is now leader of The Tonight Show band. And Robin, 42, is a fine (and busy) trombonist. But Duane had other career ideas.

``Kevin and I told him and Shane years ago, when they were just in junior high school, that if they practiced hard, by the time they were ready, we'd know just about everybody in the music business,'' said Robin. ``But Duane became an accounting major for some idiotic reason. A counselor at school told him to do it, and he listened to her instead of to us, which I never let him live down.''

Duane quit playing for six years, ``but he's got a lot of perseverance,'' Robin said. ``When he decided to start again, a lot of people didn't think he'd be able to get it back together.''

Robin has played a big role in that comeback. Duane appears on three of his brother's CDs, and Robin produced Duane's debut as a leader, due in the fall on the TCB label.

Duane concedes that his departure from music was an act of rebellion. ``I was a teenager,'' he said. ``I was just not into doing anything positive. I was in Central High School, but I didn't play in the band. I lost interest.''

Seeing Shane - now a manager at a Home Depot - play trombone in the band at the University of Maryland turned Duane around. ``I knew that's what I wanted to do,'' said Duane, who completed his undergraduate degree in business administration at Maryland and then attended Temple University's jazz studies department for a year. He moved to the Big Apple 2 1/2 years ago, but returns to Philly to gig with Shirley Scott at Ortlieb's or with Bootsie Barnes.

In Greenwich Village, Duane plays with Jason Linder's big band every Monday at Small's. He has also worked with saxophonist Oliver Lake's band, and with trombonist Joe Bowie's band, Defunkt.

The support he receives from home is unflagging. ``My dad was the picture of success, and he had a serious discipline thing happening,'' Duane says of Bill Eubanks, a retired AT&T exec who was a police detective in his younger years.

Kevin, who led his own band by his mid-20s, provides business advice. As the most visible of the musician brothers, he's helped turn ``Eubanks'' into a household word.

``People hear the name, and for some reason, they automatically like me,'' Duane says. ``It must mean my brothers were nice. And it does open up opportunities.

``At the same time, people expect a lot from me because of that. And then you get the people who just like me because of that. They think it'll get them closer to Robin or Kevin; they think it'll get them on The Tonight Show. Some of them just come right out and ask me, `Can you tell him to get me on the show?' ''

Duane has found a way to elude those he suspects are opportunists: He states only his first name by way of introduction.

Duane welcomes the Mellon concert as a chance for Philadelphia ``to hear me with some well-established musicians. I've been looking up to Terell [Stafford] and John [Swana] for a long time.''

Of course, Mom is still listening carefully. ``I don't hear him that often,'' says Vera Eubanks, ``but each time I hear him, he sounds better and better.

``I think he's very hard on himself. . . . He's never satisfied with what he's done. But he's gifted, he has great skill, and competency in composition, and he's developing his own style. He's getting a Duane Eubanks sound!''

IF YOU GO * The Terell Stafford Ensemble, John Swana and Duane Eubanks will perform at 6 tonight at the Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, 736-38 S. Broad St. Tickets are $20. Information: 215-569-9700 or 215-893-9912.

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